Notes on Style

Original Photo Credit: Pawel Czerwinski / Unsplash

When I start a landscape, still life, or a drawing of an astronaut in space, the one thing I don’t have to think about is style. I have to consider the composition, color, and size of the piece before and during an art project, but the actual drawing style relies of experience and intuition. It evolves gradually, combining techniques and tips from artists I admire, but making those decisions, at this point, is largely more dependent on intuition than intention.

Yet, it seems pretty common for artists to worry about style at some point, and for me that has begun just recently, as I’ve started expanding my horizons for what I’m capable of drawing (i.e. learning to draw people!). So I thought this month I would share a few of my observations on style and what that really means for an artist…

First, no matter how you create, you have a style. This isn’t limited to fine art, but is true for home decor, fashion, writing, and really any creative form of expression. The way you choose to express yourself is your style. To me, style is just another word for approach — so, no matter what you make or how you make it, you are expressing a style. Learning to acknowledge that is the easiest part, which is good news. The bad news is that sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds.

It can be hard to recognize our own style. We get numb to our unique way of thinking, realizing our approach is not likely to be identical to anyone else. Like, when was the last time you paid attention to your handwriting? I personally don’t think about it, I just write! It’s only when someone else says “that is your handwriting?!” that I stop and take note…and usually shrug, “oh, I guess?” As with handwriting, we don’t usually worry about naming or categorizing our style of writing, the way we can get transfixed by the names of fashion looks or home decor themes (e.g. “gothic coastal librarian” or “glam minimalist desert”). So when it comes to using our creative powers to make creative things, it can be easy to get distracted with what to call it — but the special part is that we made it, and named or not, it reflects our original approach to creativity.

Second, style can change, and that change can be intentional. Style reflects all the things that influence us in our work and creative endeavors. We all choose what we let influence and inspire us, which is then reflected in our unique tastes and approach (style). I’m personally interested in and influenced by Impressionist paintings, graphic novels, and Cartoon Network, among others. But because I tend to draw more traditional art subjects and not silly stories (usually), it becomes it’s own thing. And every artist makes these kinds of decisions. We all get to learn from who we consider to be the masters, and translate it into our own natural approach and let it gradually influence and evolve our style. We all learn and get inspiration from others, no one learns in a vacuum, and it’s the unique combination of experiences and influences that make you unique! And as much as I resent practice — it is practice where that influence transforms from intentional to intuition.

Third, don’t give into envy. There are so many ways to be creative. It can be hard to know what to choose to let inspire us, and to what extent. Nothing makes me more insecure as an artist that finding the style of an artist I love and realizing it looks so incredibly different than my own. Do I simply admire their work and let that be enough? Or do I learn from it and let it influence my work moving forward? A little bit of both? There are no clear answers (besides obviously not copying another’s work and using it as your own, but that’s a whole other conversation). Whatever I do, I find it is always the least helpful to beat myself up for not being creative the same way someone else is… Much of the time, the real joy (and anecdote to envy) is found in admiring another’s work for it’s own merit, and standing by my own as equally valid and creative. It takes confidence, and that itself can take practice too, but it’s never a wasted effort!

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